At a recent inaugural event of the EPIC Foundation in India, attended by several well-known pioneers in science and electronics, industry leaders and government officials who will be actively involved in the work of the Foundation were discussed.
EPIC wants to fill the void by bringing together industry, policymakers and academia to chart a much-needed boost for Aatmanirbhar Bharat in high-end electronics.
There were several visionaries present at the event who had achieved incredible success but felt that India had lost the race of ‘Make in India’ manufacturing, design and ethics to global companies.
Dr. Ajai Chowdhry, who is the Chairman of the EPIC Foundation and one of the six founding members of HCL, which started in 1976 with a dream “take the microprocessor and change the world”. HCL is now valued at $50 billion.
His vision to launch EPIC was due to the fact that although India had the talent and product designers, most of them were working for global companies. Now the government has come up with numerous programs to boost India’s own manufacturing businesses from chips to hardware needed to attract both large companies and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by bringing in incentives such as the tied incentive to Production (PLI) which will encourage high-volume manufacturing.
But what it takes is to design in India and then manufacture. “Another incentive is the Promotion of Electronics Manufacturing (SPECS) program, which is to manufacture as many components as possible in India. That’s where the real depth comes in.”
Chowdhry said: “Unfortunately we lost the edge in manufacturing when we wrongly committed to zero duty on computer products in 1999. This was implemented in 2005 and many brands are died because imports killed a large number of SMEs. We did not prepare the country for this. Brazil and China gave incentives to support their national industries. Meanwhile, we destroyed all national brands and we started trading, everyone bought cheaper Chinese products, marked them and sold them.
“There was no political support for domestic companies to take on the high cost of land, high cost of finance, poor infrastructure and high logistics costs. These issues are now resolved.”
He described his vision for the Foundation saying that the aim is to bring total Aatmanirbhar Bharat by designing and manufacturing in India.
“The Foundation will fund initial designs and give them away to manufacturers for free to get them started. We will design products like educational tablets that are upgradable and repairable unlike global products. We will work with the government to create preference strategies for products Indians.”
In the early stages, he said they had identified 10 volume products that the government buys. We will encourage by creating products and brands to bring to market. Later, we will collect another 10 products for intervention.
“Our whole team is made up of volunteers with great technological depth who contribute for the country. Initially we fund it ourselves and later we will seek funding from industry.”
“The government’s PLI policies encourage manufacturing and exporting in volume. Thus, this encourages breadth in manufacturing. We want to encourage depth in manufacturing where we create added value through the design and purchase of components from Indian companies.”
He pointed out that China nurtures its industries to build global brands like Huawei. “We’re just starting to do that with PLI.”
But perhaps the most important factor is that the Center and state governments need to encourage the industry by buying Indian brands.
He said he wrote a document years ago to have a preferential market access policy. But neither the then Center nor the state governments implemented this policy. Now, at least, the Center has added another policy that calls for not buying from border nations to prevent the purchase of Chinese products.
But all of this requires strict implementation because vested interests prevent it from happening.
With the approval by the Union cabinet of Rs 76,000 crores to boost manufacturing of semiconductors and displays in the country, the Center is also strongly supporting efforts to boost local manufacturing.
The demand for electronics will reach $400 billion by 2025 in India and will be a key driver for the $5 trillion economy.
The shortage of chips in the world today due to Covid and the disruption of supply chains have taught us how important it is for India to be self-reliant.
The fact that we have some of the best IITs and many of our engineers are going overseas due to lack of jobs in India, and they are excelling overseas just goes to show how talented we are. Now we also have the money and support from the Center and with good products the markets in India and abroad will only expand.
“We also have Minister Ashwini Vaishnav who really understands electronics and is an IIT Kanpur alumnus and Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who worked with Intel, as MoS. I think the stars are aligned for the electronics and semiconductors happen in India,” Chowdhry said.
With China having strict lockdowns due to Covid as well as countries wishing to diversify and distribute supply chains, India is in an ideal position. We have lost the electronic manufacturing revolution, but we must be ready to be part of the quantum technology and chip manufacturing revolution.
After all, if we could make our own fan in just 90 days, we could do anything! Epic Foundation is one such bold undertaking.
The author is a freelance journalist who writes on a variety of issues, including human rights, population, and sustainable development.
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Last updated April 29, 2022 at 8:08 PM IST